Letter to the Editor: Iowa is failing History

To the Editor:
Once, Iowa’s education ranked best in the nation. How times have changed. In a recent report evaluating K-12 civics and U.S. history standards from the non-partisan Fordham Institute, Iowa ranked in the bottom third of states, with a D grade for civics and an F for U.S. history. Iowa’s U.S. History standards, it seems, are “almost completely devoid of historical content.”

Given this, you’d be forgiven for thinking the governor and legislature might take steps to improve education for Iowa’s students. Republicans did pass and sign numerous bills affecting education, but none fix the problem. They allocated historically low funding for public schools and universities and eliminated diversity programs used by some schools to serve their students.

They expanded charter schools (HF 813), a move that will further weaken public schools in rural areas like ours, and tied the hands of educators by banning the teaching of “divisive concepts” like racism and sexism. How one is supposed to teach U.S. history without touching on these concepts remains a mystery, as does the ability of the state to actually enforce the law. No doubt this will head to court, but Republican legislators don’t mind. The state spends your money on lawsuits, not theirs.

Other laws are already in the courts. The voter suppression and purge bill, and the abortion ban are racking up big legal bills taxpayers have to foot. Republicans couldn’t find time to protect mobile home owners from predatory investors, but they were able to remove background checks for gun purchases and provide legal immunity for gun manufacturers. Nothing to clean up Iowa’s rapidly degrading surface water, but they eliminated housing voucher non-discrimination protections.

Republican legislators passed the so-called “Back the Blue” law that increases the penalties for protests, an activity that is protected by the First Amendment’s free assembly clause. The bill takes power away from local governments by making it harder to hold police who have violated the law accountable. But then small government and local control is only allowed when it’s about something Republican’s favor. They didn’t like masking mandates from local health departments and schools, so they banned the practice and tied the hands of local school boards if COVID cases spike in the fall.

In the final days of the 2021 session, Republicans passed a budget. My advice: keep an eye on your property taxes. Not much will change this year - they cleverly used federal COVID funding to disguise the trick - but in two years, county supervisors may be forced to raise property taxes drastically. When the Legislature reduced commercial property taxes, they promised counties a backfill of lost revenue. Instead, they decided to stop funding the backfill. Federal dollars will cover some of the shortfall this upcoming year, but after that, counties are on their own.

Iowa schools aren’t the only ones failing to make the grade; Iowa’s Republican legislators and the governor are failing at governing for Iowans as well.

Brian Bruening
Chair, Clayton County Democrats